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Plan To Shake Up European Sports

  • January 23rd, 2011
  • Posted by 7thmin

wembley-stadium-hvsdorg.jpgAction proposed for more intervention by the European Union in sport stands to transform its role in society; its place in business and the economy, and the overall organisation of sports.

Those three fields of activity are set out in a formal Communication on Sport released by the European Commission in Brussels this month (18.1.11).


wembley-stadium-2-wikipedia.jpgIt promises intensified action by government through the EU institutions; where sport has become a field of large scale investment, and along with extraordinary human achievement, often enough a source of trouble.

The Communication puts forward that EU law must be strictly applied to social aspects of sport, such as racial friction and mob behaviour at Football games; specifying that the European Commission would be  apply its “evidence based approach”, (doing research for understanding and dealing with problems), towards “such eventualities as violence and intolerance”.
It would seek to intervene to enforce EU policies and principles of law in the treatment of  non-nationals in sporting competitions, and in ensuring social inclusion.


Proposing “concrete actions for the Commission and / or Members States”, it offers some enticing thoughts to sporting executives and players, where it speaks of “spreading good practice and developing European networks in the field of sport.”

If that should mean application of money to cultivate sporting activity, from healthy games at community level to major professional contests, it would enhance an already-strong trend.

The Olympic Games are commonly dominated by the 27 EU countries, where those countries are put together as a bloc, e.g. in the medals tally; and events like the World Cup Football or Tour de France cycling most often eventuate as a European picnic. See EUAustralia Online, “EU Olympic triumph”, 30.8.08.


However, for cultivation of excellence or anything else, direct subventions will be out, in any new European order.

Where the EC wants “sustainable financing of sport”, it stipulates that “state aid is in principle incompatible with EU law”.

Whether such prohibitions might extend to government actions like building stadiums for the public enjoyment, with their obvious benefits also to sporting clubs, firms and companies, is not clear in this document.


It does though want clarity to be achieved across the full field of sporting concerns, promising education and “dissemination of knowledge about EU law in the sport sector, thus ensuring “greater legal certainty for European sport…”

Regulation definitely is to extend to big business in the sporting world; unsurprising, given the scale of operations, thorny commercial and legal issues often raised, and frequently complaints about murky conduct where essentially amateur structures are still  matched, or mis-matched to high-rolling professional work.

Alongside scandals of recent times threatening the conduct of the Olympics, the near-impunity of the “boys’” group running the Football, FIFA in Zurich, gives a demonstration of how the structure seems to be unsuitable for business of today.

There, we have the ongoing fretting over FIFA’s decision to give the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. (That less-than-gargantuan football power, as host of the current Asian Cup, has again, today, failed as ever before to get its team into semi-finals).  See EUAustralia Online, “Sports: Russia and Qatar to host the World Cup”, 3.12.10.


Where would the regulators be stepping in hardest, on European turf at least?

Rather comprehensive treatment could be expected in areas already dealt with from time to time by courts, such as player transfers and free movement of employees, the contracts and practice of sporting agents, and the highly commercial licensing of media transmissions and events coverage rights, and conduct of merchandising.

In fields like these the Communication refers to the application of basic laws:

“While the Treaty prohibits discrimination based on nationality and enshrines the principle of free movement of workers, the Court of Justice has taken into account the need to preserve certain  specific characteristics of sport in past rulings dealing  with the composition of national teams or deadlines for transfer rules for players …”, it says.

“In the area of professional sport, rules entailing direct discrimination (such as quotas of players on the basis on nationality) are not compatible with EU law.

“On the other hand rules which are indirectly discriminatory (such as quotas for locally trained players), or which hinder free movement of workers, (compensation for recruitment and training of young players), may be considered compatible if they pursue a legitimate objective …”


Straight-arrow sports administration is to be cultivated, hence “in team sports club licensing systems offer an invaluable tool to ensure the integrity of competitions”; and out-and-out criminal activity will come under attack: the operation of international criminal networks, match fixing, and trans-national gambling “often  beyond the remit of national authorities.”

This declaration of intent by the executive wing of the EU contains a treatment of several well-worn issues; putting them together as material for possible future legislation is a milestone in the fast evolution of sport as a life preoccupation of many people, a social issue and important field of economic activity.


European Commission, Brussels, “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Developing the European Dimension in Sport”, Brussels, 18.1.11, COM(2011) 12 final. ”., (22.1.11).